Meet the dogs of Westminster: Aristocrat the Saint Bernard

Holly Bailey

NEW YORK—Of all the big dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Aristocrat may very well be the biggest.

The hulking Saint Bernard from Hopewell, N.J., weighs in at a burly 180 pounds—far more than his handler, Melody Salmi, who says that looking after him is like “caring for a child.”

For one thing, traveling with Aristocrat—affectionately known as “Cookie”—requires more than just toting around a few extra bags of treats. Salmi said she travels in an extended van that is “totally full” of Aristocrat’s equipment.

“We’ve got dog food ... we bring ice, two coolers, wet clothes, grooming products, blow dryers, a microwave," said Salmi with a laugh.

Always at risk of overheating, the dog has his own battery-powered industrial fan—which he was plopped in front of after a pre-Westminster press conference last week as Salmi misted him with a spray bottle of water. Salmi said he usually requires three fans—at least at indoor events. During the summer, she brings a minimum seven fans to every show.

“We’re just trying to keep him cool,” Salmi said. “They are supposed to be in the snow, [but] you have to adapt to whatever your surroundings are.”

Salmi, who used to breed Saint Bernards in Florida, added that they can deal with heat, "you just have to have a lot of air conditioning. The electric company loves you.”

For dog fanciers, Aristocrat may be the most recognizable dog at Westminster. For months, his owner, Linda Baker, has been advertising her dog big-time in industry magazines. It’s an aggressive campaign for what will be Aristocrat’s final year on the show circuit, and they want to win.

Last year, Aristocrat competed at 84 shows. So far in 2013, he’s competed in 15 shows—and he’s scheduled to be on the road every single weekend.

“We are pushing him really hard this year,” Salmi said, misting Aristocrat again with ice water. “We want him to have a great final year before he retires.”